The MGA With An Attitude
The Poker Run - September 20, 1998

Hi gang,

I don't usually write about a road trip less than 1000 miles, but for this one I'll make an exception.

I had a nice Sunday here. I blew off the autocross in Peoria (Illinois) in favor of the poker run in Dubuque (Iowa) with the TSBSCO club (pronounce that "tobasco", as in Tri State British Sports Car Owners). Great weather for a day cruise! I left home (Naperville, Illinois) at 7:00 am, 65 degrees, top down and light jacket weather. I ran through a few sprinkles on the way out there, just enough to clean the car a little so I didn't feel the need to hit a car wash on the way. At 76 miles out I had to stop in Rockford for gas, 11.6 gallons in the 12 gallon tank. Sure glad I fixed the fuel gauge, because I was tinkering with the trip odometer during a rally last week and lost track of the distance. Arrived in Dubuque a little early (not needing a car wash), so I spent 20 minutes just cruising around town checking out some of the historic stuff. Also stopped at Subway to stock up the lunch box before meeting the gang. Another 107 miles out on that tank of gas and thinking the poker run would be less than 150 miles.

When I got to Dubuque it was still overcast and a little threatening looking. Only five cars for the drive. I know these people are careful with their cars, but what a bunch of whoosies! Just a hint of overcast and they all stay home? One BGT, one Midget (the instigator), one Spitfire, one TR6, and my MGA. These guys usually turn out 12-16 cars for a poker run. Still a little cloudy at the beginning of the run, so I was the only one with the top down? I ditched the jacket immediately, definitely t-shirt weather from the start. Sign in, ante up $5, draw the first card, and out of town at 11:00 am.

For some reason the old geezer in the Spit took a right at the first traffic light less than 100 yards from the start (should have gone straight), and we never saw him again for the rest of the day. The TR6 even went back to search for about 10 minutes but came up empty handed. One of the worlds little mysteries I guess. Well, four cars are still a party, so on we went.

We ran north up the Iowa side of the Mississippi, taking Great River Road or other side roads to stay away from traffic and enjoy the countryside. The sun came out (a little) almost as soon as we got moving, then just a little brighter as the day went on. I can't remember the last time I had such gorgeous cruising weather for a whole day.

The first stop was on top of Pikes Peak, 52 miles down and so far very uneventful. Yeah, the same Pike that did the one in Colorado, but he was here first. This one is a high vista in Iowa overlooking the Mississippi River. Well, it was only about a three minute drive up, so it wasn't all that high. There were surprisingly few people out for such a nice Sunday afternoon. Broke out the lunch, found a nice little pagoda with a big picnic table, and someone brought out a nice table cloth. No cheese and wine here though. Someone missed a good bet here. Draw the second card.

The second stop was another park on a pinnacle overlooking the river. Took more like five minutes to drive up this one, and second gear only to get up the hill. This one was above a sharp bend in the river with a big bridge where the shipping barges are famous for clobbering the bridge pylons on a regular basis. Someone pulled out a camera, so I guess I'm famous again. Oh well. 84 miles down and everyone still smiling. Also still driving at a very leisurely pace. Make that a "sedate" pace. Good for the gas mileage though, rather like putzing along the Haul Road in Alaska and enjoying the environment. Draw #3, and the Midget puts the top down.

Then we crossed the river and started working our way south on the Wisconsin side, more Great River Road and a few little towns for local interest. Third stop was Kickapoo Orchard, lots of apples and any kind of apple product you can imagine, but no Joy Juice. Humph! Already ate lunch, so it wasn't too hard to resist the temptations. Bought a caramel apple just to sit and munch and be sociable with the gang. 118 miles and still a ways to go. Draw #4 and continue on south.

Checking the route instructions, it looked like there was another programmed stop around the 150 mile mark at a place called Horseshoe Bar, and way before the dinner meeting at the end of the run, so it looked like we might end up with six cards for a change. Turned out that the others were not much on public drinking, and most had been there before, so we skipped that one.

We did however ramble into a gas station about that time, not my call, but the Midget was getting a little worried. I had plenty of gas left to finish the run, but what the hey, a fill up here would get me all the way home, so why not? Hmmm, 255 miles on 8.54 gallons. 29.9 mpg? And that included 107 miles of highway cruising before I got to Dubuque. I swear I couldn't squeeze in another drop. Told you these folks were easy drivers. Someone was in a hurry to get on home about that time, so they decided it was as good a time as any for the last draw. Bingo! I drew my third nine. And the first place winner gets $15. Sheesh! First win here in five years, and it won't even pay for the gas.

So we do the rest of the run on the main highways, finally cruise past the restaurant in Dickyville where no one wanted to stop for dinner anyway, 195 miles for the official poker run distance. About that time the Midget pulled over to put the top up, getting a little chilly. Heck, I was still fine in a t-shirt with the top down and the sun still shining. Must have still been at least 75 degrees. I gather the BGT was about overdue for a late mass back in Dubuque, so they didn't stop.

The rest of the gang (what was left) was headed southwest in the general direction of Galena, Illinois, which is sort of on my way home if I go back the way I came on US-20. We were trundling along a couple of county roads, still in Wisconsin, came across a road closure, and ended up on a fresh chip rock road. That didn't seem to go over well with the TR6, and they ended up poking along at about 30 mph on a perfectly smooth road. Fifteen minutes later we were passing through Hazel Green, just a couple miles north of the Illinois border. "What the hey" sez me, there's still some daylight here and I'm a little bored, so how about some new roads? Check map, honk and wave, hang a left out of town and end up on County W.

Yee-Haa! A county road that appears on the state map, so it's a nice blacktop winding through the hills in pursuit of nowhere. Five miles down the road I ran through a tiny little berg called New Diggings. This was nice, because I was here once before but couldn't remember where it was. This is the home of a neat little bikers' bar with Harleys all about and the riders sitting on the porch rail grinning and waving. One of the poker runs stopped here a few years ago, and the bikers all went ga-ga over the little cars. But I don't suppose the British car guys would want to do it at night.

The beer garden out back is a dirt patio with a wooden stockade fence and a few tree stumps to sit on. Inside you get a wooden floor and your typical one-holer water flusher, the one concession to modernization. There's a podium for a band and a tiny little gas engine generator just to supply power for a couple of electric amps. The entertainment is whoever volunteers to get up there and strut their stuff for a few minutes at a time. When it gets dark they break out the kerosene lanterns and a few candles. Just to keep the peace there's a local rule about staying on the porch with the beer, and a sheriff patrol car cruises past occasionally. But the truth be known, I think the sheriffs deputy would never get out of his car anyway. Today I just honk and wave on the way past.

After another 20 miles the W road crosses the state line, and a few miles farther I run through Warren Illinois, 1600 people, typical small town stuff, but still a lot bigger than where I grew up. I guess I just missed Apple River by a few miles, but then we get through there occasionally anyway. Found Stagecoach Trail heading southeast for 15 miles, going through Nora, Waddams Grove and Lena. A little too much traffic for my taste, and getting just a couple of miles away from US-20, so time for another left.

The map says County-78, but it looked like route Nothing to me, 20 miles of blacktop good for most any speed you like in the late evening, and just two stop signs for state highways. Eventually I dropped about five miles south to go through Pecatonica, 1800 people, but I took the short way through from west to east and didn't have to fight much of the town. By that time it was getting hard to read the map, and there was just one more road I wanted to take before got really dark. There's a little swiggle called County-21 looping around several miles east from there and terminating on US-20 just west of Rockford. Alas, there were huge barricades with road closed signs all over, so that one will have to wait for another day.

Two miles south, head east on 4-lane US-20 with the 65 limit, shoot the expressway around the south side of Rockford, then south down I-39 for 25 miles, and east on I-88 for 50 miles, and back home just before 9:00 pm. Went 562 miles in that 14 hours, two fuel stops, and I never looked under the bonnet once. That's the way a poker run is supposed to go, yes? Insert big grin here, and get your own LBC on the road. I want to hear some more of those Yee-Haa stories.

Drive 'em 'till they drop,

Barney Gaylord
1958 MGA with an attitude

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